2018/10/10: In Edna Mall on the bustling Bole Road in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, Mesert Baru poses for her Tecno Camon i. "This phone is seriously nice for selfies," says the 35-year-old shop assistant, admiring the picture she just took.
Mesert's satisfaction is no accident. Tecno cameras have been optimized for African complexions, explains Arif Chowdhury, vice president of Transsion. "Our cameras adjust more light for darker skin, so the photograph is more beautiful," he says. "That's one of the reasons we've become successful."
More innovations followed. Transsion opened research and development centers in China, Nigeria and Kenya to work out how to better appeal to African users. Local languages such as Amharic, Hausa and Swahili were added to keyboards and phones were given a longer battery life.
Chinese companies have been eager to use technology to tap into Africans' spending habits. In 2015, Kenyan mobile payments operator M-Pesa migrated all of its 12.8 million subscribers to Huawei's Mobile Money platform as it expanded across East Africa and beyond. The move increased the number of transactions M-Pesa could process, and the app's user base has more than doubled since then.
For Transsion, future growth is set to come from building its business outside Africa in other developing markets, such as Russia, Indonesia and Bangladesh. In 2017, it launched Tecno in India and within a year had claimed 5% of the huge market, according to IDC.
How did Tecno make such rapid progress? Transsion's Chowdhury says another innovation tailored to local customs has helped.
"Indian people use their hands to eat food," he says, "so their fingers get oily. What if you're having lunch and your boss calls? You try to take the call but your fingerprint won't work." The fix: screens that can read greasy fingers.
2018/10/08: we’re in the midst of a similarly disruptive and pivotal moment in history that I’m calling the Great Digitization Event, or GDE. And right now we’re in that period where the oxygen, or in this case the internet as used today, is rapidly and indifferently killing off many systems while allowing new types of organizations to emerge.
[in the mid 90s], vice president Al Gore started talking about the internet as the Next Big Thing—I remember Jane excitedly telling me he had a whole box of first issues at Blair House. In 1996, a lyricist for the Grateful Dead, John Perry Barlow, wrote the hippie-inspired, libertarian-fueled manifesto “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” which in many ways marked a pivotal moment where the dog catches the car and Silicon Valley emerges from the subculture and begins the dotcom boom. WIRED became a global symbol of the dramatic transformation headquartered in Silicon Valley that made consumers lust and struck fear in established businesses around the world.
Trump and the populism that’s rampaging around the world today, marked by xenophobia, racism, sexism, and rising inequality, is greatly amplified by the forces the GDE has unleashed.
The hippie culture that drove the rise of the GDE failed to completely fulfill the promise of new technology, but those anaerobic hippies did leave Gen Z a whole new set of tools to deploy. The new generation are the warm-blooded mammals able to thrive in an environment no longer appropriate for their cold-blooded ancestors. My generation and the hippies are the anaerobic bacteria heading toward the mud.
2018/04/14: African digital enterprises thrive that are able to integrate analog and digital value creation, addressing a specific local problem that is widespread but unaddressable for foreign competitors in a cost-effective way. This doesn’t mean that Tayo’s vision is unrealistic; it only means that it will take rather exceptional founders and companies to break the pattern that most African digital enterprises currently fall into.
Digital enterprises from the US, Europe, and East Asia have been recognized for their potential to achieve global market reach, and for forming a globalized digital infrastructure. However, digital enterprises from economically peripheral countries have usually remained local.
This paper seeks to understand the enterprise-level reasons for these global differences. Drawing on in-depth interviews with founders, we empirically examine the value creation and geographical market scope of 73 digital enterprises in Lagos, Nairobi, Accra, and Kigali.
We develop theory that explains why enterprises in global economic peripheries are able to exploit some but not all opportunities of digital technologies.
In contrast to the claim in current scholarship that digital enterprises can operate in relatively unbounded ways, we find that African enterprises cannot compete in global digital markets and are ultimately compelled to offer localized digital products.
Based on these findings, we theorize that digital products with the greatest global scaling potential are the least likely to be owned and controlled by digital enterprises located in economic peripheries. We thus encourage scholars of digital enterprise to more carefully take geographical variation into account, and acknowledge technological drivers of increasing unevenness in the global digital economy.
2018/09/21: it is impossible to achieve absolute decoupling of resource use from GDP on a global scale, even with rapid efficiency gains and aggressive taxes on resource extraction. This is the conclusion reached by literally every existing study that has been conducted on the matter (you can follow links to the original research here). The reason is simple: the rate of decoupling is outstripped by the normal rate of GDP growth, even in high-efficiency scenarios. To make matters worse, there are physical limits to resource efficiency, and as we approach them the rate of improvement slows down, giving yet more force to the scale effect of GDP growth.
Unlike resource use, GDP can (thankfully) be dramatically decoupled from carbon emissions. But this solves only one dimension of our ecological poly-crisis. Even if we magically switched to a completely clean and renewable energy system tomorrow, we would be no closer to reversing our overshoot of all the other critical planetary boundaries: biodiversity collapse, chemical loading, deforestation, etc.
What are we going to do with all that clean energy? The same things we’re doing with fossil fuels: raze forests, intensify agricultural extraction, produce mountains of stuff, send waste to landfill – and do all of this at an ever-increasing rate, because our economic system is programmed to require endless expansion.
I have never said that poor countries shouldn’t grow – nor has anyone in this field of study (which Noah would know had he read any of the relevant literature). I have simply said that we can’t continue with aggregate global growth. What we need, then, is a fairer distribution of global income, with much more of it going to poor countries (and poor people within rich countries).
Is it politically impossible? Well, it would certainly require a struggle. But it’s far less impossible than Noah’s preferred alternative, namely, to transcend the laws of physics.
the real cause of lower fertility isn’t higher GDP but rather better girls’ education. GDP is a confounding factor.
While poor countries may need some GDP growth, that should never – for any nation, rich or poor – be the objective as such. The objective should be to improve human well-being: better health, better education, better housing, happiness, etc.
there is no evidence that relying on a switch to services, in and of itself, reduces the material throughput of the global economy.
while the practice of craft, especially those such as knitting, quilting, needlework and woodworking, may at first appear to be relatively private activities, the benefits also substantially arise from the social connections craft enables.
These have even been reported across whole communities impacted by disaster, such as the recovery following the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.
One of the strengths of craft practice, especially as a contributor to well-being, is precisely that it can be both solitary and collective, and it’s up to the individual to decide.
To understand DiDIY (Digital DIY) and creativity, the potential social impact of DiDIY and for information about many new initiatives such as makerspaces and online ‘platforms for creativity’, look at the following studies, proposals and other resources
2017-05-19: a discussion with the students of the Roman School of Comics
A set of five admirably compact and well-chosen principles that cover a lot of bases: democratic accountability; transparency and auditability; progress harnessed to public service; and an eye for the social dimension of technological decision-making.
Silicon Valley's culture is hurting our economy.
Alongside the impressive technology advances of the last two decades, many see a destructive use of software patents corrupting the marketplace for ideas.
When I speak with many policymakers about their vision for education in 2025 as it relates to the use of technology, what I often hear is a description of new sets of gadgets and cool electronic things in schools.
These sorts of visions are important to contemplate, especially where they may help challenge our conceptions (and preconceptions) of what it possible -- or even likely. But in the end they resemble more of a wish-list of items that can be purchased to rebuild and reimagine the architecture of a school or classroom than a vision for what students should be learning, and how, and how others can support them in this process.
If costs weren't an issue, what would you be seeking to do with technology to support learning? Would this change your perspective on the role of ICTs from what it is now?
2018/03/26: the more we grow, the more we eat away at the web of life on which we all depend.
We have known about this problem for decades now, but we've been told not to worry: As technology improves and becomes more efficient, we'll be able to keep growing the economy while nonetheless reducing our impact on the natural world. The technical term for this is "green growth," which requires absolute decoupling of GDP from material use. According to the theory, we can speed this process along by incentivizing innovation; if we tax carbon emissions and material extraction, we can spur companies to invest in more efficient tech.
Here's the magic number: 50 billion tons. That's how much of the Earth's materials and life forms we can safely use each year. That includes everything from wood to plastic, fish to livestock, minerals to metals: all the physical stuff that we consume. Right now, we're using about 80 billion tons each year-way over the limit. So for growth to be green, we need to somehow get back down to 50 billion tons despite expanding the GDP.
When green growth theory was first proposed, there was no evidence on whether it would actually work-it was purely speculative. But over the past few years, three major studies have set out to examine this question. All have arrived at the same rather troubling conclusion: Even under best-case scenario conditions, absolute decoupling of GDP growth from material use is not possible on a global scale.
Why the bad news? The main reason is that tech innovation just doesn't work the way most of us assume. We know that Moore's law says that chip performance doubles about every two years-but this doesn't apply to material use. There are physical limits to material efficiency, and once we start to reach them then the scale effect of growth drives material use back up in the long run. For instance you might be able to produce a wooden table more efficiently, but you can't produce a table out of nothing. In the end you'll need a minimum amount of wood, and once you reach that limit, then any growth in table production is going to come along with a corresponding growth in wood use.
It would be hard to overstate the impact of these results. Right now, our only plan for dealing with the ecological emergency that's staring us in the face is to hope that tech innovation and green growth will mitigate the coming disaster. Yes, we're going to need all the wizardry we can get-but that alone is not going to be enough. The only real option is in fact much simpler and more obvious: We need to start consuming less.
Guest blog post by Abbe Marks, Principal Advisor
After two generations of Moto Mods, Lenovo's wild-but not wildly successful-smartphone concept is at a crossroads.
We are in urgent need for regulatory innovation. The affirmation of this sentiment is increasingly visible globally in the evolving discourse along with world wide adoption of emerging tools such as
The idea that particular individuals drive history has long been discredited. Yet it persists in the tech industry, obscuring some of the fundamental factors in innovation.